The Santa Clara River delivers nutrient rich runoff to the eastern Santa Barbara Channel during brief (???1-3 day) episodic events. Using both river and oceanographic measurements, we evaluate river loading and dispersal of dissolved macronutrients (silicate, inorganic N and P) and comment on the biological implications of these nutrient contributions. Both river and ocean observations suggest that river nutrient concentrations are inversely related to river flow rates. Land use is suggested to influence these concentrations, since runoff from a subwatershed with substantial agriculture and urban areas had much higher nitrate than runoff from a wooded subwatershed. During runoff events, river nutrients were observed to conservatively mix into the buoyant, surface plume immediately seaward of the Santa Clara River mouth. Dispersal of these river nutrients extended 10s of km into the channel. Growth of phytoplankton and nutrient uptake was low during our observations (1-3 days following runoff), presumably due to the very low light levels resulting from high turbidity. However, nutrient quality of runoff (Si:N:P = 16:5:1) was found to be significantly different than upwelling inputs (13:10:1), which may influence different algal responses once sediments settle. Evaluation of total river nitrate loads suggests that most of the annual river nutrient fluxes to the ocean occur during the brief winter flooding events. Wet winters (such as El Nin??o) contribute nutrients at rates approximately an order-of-magnitude greater than "average" winters. Although total river nitrate delivery is considerably less than that supplied by upwelling, the timing and location of these types of events are very different, with river discharge (upwelling) occurring predominantly in the winter (summer) and in the eastern (western) channel. ?? 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.